Twin Cities officials didn't spy on Muslims like the FBI wanted, analysis shows


Authorities in the Twin Cities were given multiple opportunities to use community outreach programs to secretly collect information about American Muslims in the area.

But an analysis of documents obtained by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found officials never followed through, saying the damage it could have caused would have been counterproductive.

Here's a look at how each city handled their different opportunities.

The FBI in Minneapolis

The FBI directed officials in Minneapolis and several other cities to use its community outreach programs to covertly collect intelligence on American Muslims in order to support its counterterrorism and investigative units, according to documents uncovered by the Brennan Center.

The FBI gave this directive in 2009 following several incidents of young Minnesota men going overseas to join extremist groups. But local officials, according to Brennan, suggested they never actually followed through with the FBI's instructions.

“We never followed it because at the time we believed our brand of community outreach would engender the trust we’d built up here,” Kyle Loven, the FBI’s spokesperson in Minneapolis, told the Star Tribune Wednesday.

The St. Paul Police Department

According to the Brennan Center's analysis of documents, during the same time the FBI was trying to execute its plan in Minneapolis, the St. Paul Police Department received a grant from the Department of Justice for a similar initiative.

St. Paul maintains they didn't use intelligence gathered from outreach efforts to keep track of individuals who may be vulnerable to becoming radicalized.

Why did they back off?

Officials from both cities said at the time building trust within the community was crucial to combating extremism and other terrorist recruiting efforts.

And the Brennan Center suggests trust can't be built if spying is going on at the same time.

In the findings it released Wednesday, the center says "mixing community outreach with intelligence gathering can seriously undermine community trust" and be counterproductive to national security efforts.

More about anti-terror recruitment programs

The Brennan Center and the news site Intercept analyzed these documents a few months after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a Justice Department initiative to combat terrorist recruitment efforts in the Twin Cities, Los Angeles and Boston. If the program is successful in these cities, it will likely be implemented nationwide.

The organizations noted that programs intended to deter people from joining extremist groups run the risk of covertly collecting intelligence on community members, which could result in a loss of trust between the community and officials.

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